Multiculturalism under the microscope

first_img Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram “On the one hand people say they love multiculturalism, but if you ask how we got to become a multicultural society, this is where you need to explain how it works.Maria VamvakinouA new report says that despite Australia’s embracing of multiculturalism, discrimination against ethnic minorities is on the increase, and a majority of Australians do not support public funds being used to assist ethnic minorities to maintain their traditions. While the Scanlon Foundation’s 2013 Mapping Social Cohesion Survey strikes an upbeat tone on perceptions of the term ‘multiculturalism’ in Australia, the report published this week admits that since the benchmark of 2007, its findings “arguably reflect a deteriorating rather than improving situation”, with “a marked increase in the reported experience of discrimination, especially amongst Australians of non-English speaking background”. A hardening of attitudes towards asylum seekers was also evidenced by the research, which has been conducted annually for the past six years. While the findings indicate strong levels of support for the concept of multiculturalism – 84 per cent of respondents agreed that ‘multiculturalism has been good for Australia’ – and a similar proportion agreed that multiculturalism benefited the nation’s economic development – more than half of those asked did not agree that ethnic communities should receive public funds to maintain customs and traditions. The reticence of a majority of Australians to acknowledge the importance of funding multicultural programs suggests a disconnect with broader views on the benefits of multiculturalism. The survey’s authors described multiculturalism as “an ambiguous term that individuals interpret in different ways” but was “a strong and supported ‘brand’ [and] one that resonates with the Australian people”. The report’s findings were largely welcomed – with caveats – by politicians and multicultural lobby groups. Victoria’s Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship Nicholas Kotsiras described the results as reinforcing the concept of Australian multiculturalism “as a success story”, whilst noting that research in Victoria – which showed over 80 per cent agreed that multiculturalism benefits Australia’s economic development – was higher than the national figure. “Victoria’s approach to multiculturalism sets a benchmark for other states to follow,” Mr Kotsiras said, whilst conceding that the survey flagged “some less positive developments”. “This demonstrates that while Victoria and Australia are, on the whole, harmonious, we must remain vigilant and resolved in our efforts to combat racism and discrimination wherever it occurs.” Victorian Labor MP John Pandazopoulos said the report highlighted the need for the federal government to reconsider the downgrading of multicultural affairs as a key ministerial portfolio. “The report’s outcomes highlight why the Abbott government’s recent decision to shut down the portfolio is completely wrong,” said the Member of Dandenong, who added that the Victorian experience – of bipartisan support for diversity and multicultural programs – was key to changing negative trends as highlighted by the survey. “The federal government should emulate this, rather than use approaches that have proven wrong overseas and only divide society. “It’s a crying shame that the principle of the Australian ‘fair go’ in the eyes of many has diminished over the last 10 years,” he said. Maria Vamvakinou MP – who chaired a cross-party federal inquiry into multiculturalism during the last Labor government – echoed the state MP’s sentiments. Ms Vamvakinou told Neos Kosmos that the survey’s findings provided further evidence that Tony Abbott’s decision to downgrade the multicultural portfolio was a mistake and “counter productive”. “People don’t understand that the reason why we have a cohesive society today is that governments funded programs and policy. Cohesion didn’t happen accidentally,” she said. “That’s where the disconnect is. On the one hand people say they love multiculturalism, but if you ask how we got to become a multicultural society, this is where you need to explain how it works. We can’t take it for granted everybody knows. They don’t.” Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria Chairperson Joe Caputo described the survey’s results as “mostly promising” but was “saddened” to see an increase in discrimination of people from non-English backgrounds and a progressively negative view of asylum seekers. “The fact that survey respondents consider asylum seekers the third most important problem facing Australia today goes to show how much the issue has been portrayed negatively by politicians and the media,” he said. The Scanlon Foundation’s 2013 Mapping Social Cohesion Survey can be viewed at:

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